UN probe exposes shocking North Korean rights abuses

North Korean government says the UN report, citing 'unspeakable atrocities,' is slander

South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence under a heightened alert put in place in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test near the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.
Ahn Young-joon/AP

The head of a U.N. human rights probe Tuesday spotlighted "unspeakable atrocities" inflicted on political camp prisoners in North Korea and said he can't get answers from the country's leader Kim Jong Un as his government has dismissed the allegations as slander.

Michael Kirby, who heads the U.N. commission examining North Korea's human rights record, said Tuesday that his July 16 letter to the leader has gone unanswered, and the government has offered no evidence to contradict graphic testimony of human rights abuses in the secretive nation.

For example, Kirby said, the commission heard from a young man imprisoned from birth, who said he lived on rodents, lizards and grass and saw his mother and brother executed.

It also heard from a young woman who said she saw another female prisoner forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, Kirby said, and a man who said he was forced to help collect and burn the corpses of prisoners who died of starvation.

"The commission invited the authorities of Democratic People's Republic of Korea to attend the public hearings in Seoul and make representations, but received no reply," Kirby said.

"Instead, its official news agency attacked the testimony we heard as 'slander' against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, put forward by 'human scum.'"

North Korea has refused to cooperate with the commission, which has spent recent months gathering testimony from dozens of victims and experts at public hearings in Seoul and Tokyo, which has "given a face and voice to great human suffering."

North Korean diplomat Kim Yong-ho told the council the evidence was "fabricated and invented by forces hostile" to his country, singling out Washington, Tokyo and Brussels.

Kirby hit back and told the 47-nation Human Rights Council based in Geneva that, "An ounce of evidence is worth far more than many pounds of insults and baseless attacks."  

"So far, however, the evidence we have heard has largely pointed in one direction -- and evidence to the contrary is lacking."

Kirby said it was also essential to ensure full accountability for human rights violations.

"We will seek to determine which state institutions and officials carry responsibility for gross human rights violations proved to have been committed," he said, but stressed that responsibility for action lies with the international community.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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